Q&A: Bill Christiansen on the Sustainable Development Goal for Water Efficiency

Bill Christiansen, program manager for the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the efficient and sustainable use of water, talks with Circle of Blue about the subgoal to improve water efficiency.

In a series of Q&As with water experts, Circle of Blue explores the significance of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for water, how they can be achieved, and how they will be measured. We spoke with Bill Christiansen about the 6.4 subgoal, which aims, by 2030, to “substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity, and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.”

BILL CHRISTIANSEN
Bill Christiansen program director Alliance for Water Efficiency Sustainable Development Goals Q&A Circle of Blue

Photo courtesy of Alliance for Water Efficiency
Circle of Blue: Can you describe the range of water-use efficiency measures currently in place?

Bill Christiansen: Many water utilities in the United States and Canada promote water use efficiency through education and outreach, and incentive programs. There are a variety of ways to increase water use efficiency ranging from behavior changes, indoor fixture replacement, and improving the efficiency of outdoor water use such as lawn watering. Residential water use efficiency has improved greatly in North America in the last couple of decades. A lot of that has to do with the Energy Policy Act of 1992 that created new efficiency requirements for fixtures in homes, such as toilets, and made them a lot more efficient. There is still a lot of opportunity for reducing water use, particularly in regard to outdoor water use.

The commercial and industrial water use sectors can also be targeted to improve water use efficiency. Water use in these sectors is not as homogenous as residential, and often large savings can be achieved.

We’ve seen in places like Australia and California, places that experience extreme drought, that the government steps in and starts requiring water conservation. Have people been proactive in making these changes?
Bill Christiansen: I think people are being pretty proactive about it. If you take California as an example, the government did step in with this latest drought, but California has been making strides for decades in terms of water use efficiency. I wouldn’t say it’s only because of the government stepping in that improvements are being made.
Where can the most improvements be made?

Bill Christiansen: I think outdoor water use on the residential side, and on the nonresidential side I think there are many opportunities for savings with indoor and outdoor water use.

Commercial and industrial water use is less homogenous than residential water use, and the opportunities for savings can vary greatly among water users. A wealth of information on this topic can be found on the Alliance for Water Efficiency website.

Water Withdrawals in the United States
Kaye LaFond United States water use water efficiency Sustainable Development Goals Q&A Circle of Blue

Graphic by Kaye LaFond / Circle of Blue
Even as the population has grown in the United States, water withdrawals have declined.
Does implementing water efficiency measures always have to be expensive? What types of cost-effective measures can be implemented?
Bill Christiansen: Often times the benefits of implementing a water efficiency measure exceed the costs. Demand reductions resulting from efficiency can lower a water provider’s operating costs and potentially avoid the need for costly expansion projects. It is important to plan efficiency programs carefully, weigh the costs and benefits, and make sound investments. There are a variety of options including fixture replacement programs, education programs, and audits to identify opportunities for water savings.
How can water scarcity and water efficiency be addressed in the midst of changing conditions?

Bill Christiansen: I think it’s important to plan for uncertainty, and accept that things may change, whether it be the climate or current water supply conditions. We have seen extreme drought in the United States recently, and some scientists are predicting greater frequency of extreme weather events. Uncertainty is something planners need to embrace and consider as they look forward.

I think we’ll see technology continue to improve and we will adapt to changing conditions. I am optimistic that the solutions will be there, and I think we’ll see increased attention toward things like water loss and metering. Smart metering, improved customer awareness, and other technological innovations will help us better manage our resources in the future.

A news correspondent for Circle of Blue based out of Hawaii. She writes The Stream, Circle of Blue’s daily digest of international water news trends. Her interests include food security, ecology and the Great Lakes.
Contact Codi Kozacek

1 reply
  1. Kenneth Glick (EEI) says:

    Seems to me that the Sustainable Development Goals area little too encompassing in order to be effective. I understand the need to be inclusive but when I think of the word “sustainable”, I don’t think of eradicating poverty, safeguarding natural resources, or achieving human equality. These are all noble goals but they don’t have anything to do with being sustainable.

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